Pacifism

Although this term is usually related to the renunciation of war by the individual or a nation, it admits of no single definition. Historic or biblical pacifists argue their case on biblical grounds, but modern pacifists seem to confront the problem more on moral and philosophical bases. Currently the term “pacifist” is regularly reserved for anyone who renounces all war, specifically wars fought with modern weapons.

Historic or biblical pacifists, such as Quakers and Mennonites, have based their beliefs on the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). The NT message may not be quite as explicit as some pacifists advocate. The basic message is one of peace among men of good will (Luke 2:14) and brotherhood, but Christ warns that He had come to bring a sword, not peace (Matt. 10:34). It is clear that He used some physical force when driving the merchants from the Temple (John 2:14-16). To add to this ambivalence, Paul wrote: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18), but he also advocated the use of the sword in defense of the state (Rom. 13:4). After Constantine's rapprochment with Christianity, Christians served in the army, and in medieval times Aquinas upheld the “just war” idea. The Anabaptists of the Reformation generally renounced war on biblical grounds.

The first widespread peace movement emerged after the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) and was the forerunner of many more to come. Some were dedicated to the personal rejection of all war; others advocated a progressive extermination of war through education, arbitration, and international organization. The mid- nineteenth-century wars brought most of these movements to an abrupt halt. During the latter part of the century, the Russian author of War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy,* emerged as an advocate of pacifism.

A strong peace movement also rode the tides of political optismism into the early 1900s in both Europe and the United States. The American Peace Society claimed such members as Andrew Carnegie, J.R. Mott,* and W.J. Bryan.* World War I soon brought the capitulation of the society; patriotism and the “just war” philosophy won the day. Great Britain was less hysterical in its reactions and eventually recognized the conscientious objections to war of thousands of citizens. The Fellowship of Reconciliation,* the world's largest modern peace organization, was organized in England (1914).

Peace movements reached an all time high in popularity between 1914 and 1939. In England in the latter year the Peace Pledge Union claimed more than 100,000 members pledged never again to support war. Reinhold Niebuhr* joined the pacifist movement, but later resigned and founded his own group, Christian Action, and actively professed a “just war” doctrine. The USA and Britain recognized the conscientious objector more readily during World War II. In the USA, 12,000 were assigned to civilian public service camps and 25,000 more served in the armed forces as noncombatants; 6,000 were in prison. Britain's figures showed nearly 24,000 in civilian work and more than 17,000 noncombatants.

After 1945 the peace churches emphasized world relief programs, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation reported worldwide organizational growth. The total postwar peace movement was, however, quantitatively smaller, but committed to total disarmament, nuclear pacifism, and nonviolence, more on philosophical than on biblical grounds.

C.J. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War (1919); N. Thomas, The Conscientious Objector in America (1923); C.E. Raven, War and the Christian (1938); L. Richards, Christian Pacifism After Two World Wars (1948); D. Hayes, Challenge of Conscience (1949); G.F. Hershberger, War, Peace and Nonresistance (1953); M.L. King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom (1958); G.F. Nuttall, Christian Pacifism in History (1958); G.H.C. MacGregor, New Testament Basis of Pacifism (1960); R.H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-Evaluation (1960); P. Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience (1961).